4 ways to protect your privacy and reputation on Facebook Timeline

My latest blog post for HBR takes a look at the new ooh! aah! Facebook Timeline, which comes tantalizingly close to fulfilling my wish list for a social media scrapbook without allowing me to easily print the damn thing already. (And I’m guessing it won’t be long before some clever company offers to do just that.)

The HBR post looks at how Facebook’s Timeline will affect your career, promising that you’ll soon know too much about your colleagues, your colleagues will know the “propersonal” you, and you’ll know more about yourself. It outlines the specific strategies you can put in place to address all three of these developments.

Developing those strategies is one way to protect your privacy. If you want to ensure that Facebook’s new Timeline doesn’t intrude on either your personal or professional life, here are three more adjustments to consider:

  1. Be your own primary audience. There’s a tendency to see any social media presence as outward-looking — after all, there is a reason it’s called “social”. In the case of Facebook’s Timeline, however, you may be your own most appreciative audience. It’s very satisfying to look back over moments in your life and have them organized chronologically, in a tidy lay-out. It’s so satisfying that you may want to record more moments so that you’ve got a more detailed record. That is a great use of Timeline, but I strongly encourage you to consider that many such posts may be for your eyes only — even if it’s simply because nobody else will be interested. Use your per-post and account privacy settings to make yourself the only person who can see some (or even most of) your past and future Timeline posts. Use the “custom privacy” setting on an individual post or picture to select “only me”. You can make that your default privacy setting by going to Privacy Settings, then Control Your Default Privacy, then choosing Custom; “only me” will be one of the options in the pop-up window.
  2. Shape your history. Your Facebook privacy settings now gives you the option, “limit the audience for past posts”.  Facebook gives you a lot of warning screens about how hitting this button means changing the settings on *all* your past posts, with no option for a one-click undo. I bravely forged again, and the result was that all my past posts were limited to Friends unless I’d previously made them visible only to a specific list of friends (like my “kid-sharing friends” list). In other words, I didn’t lose any of my previous per-post privacy customization, and I gained the freedom of knowing that random strangers won’t be able to see what I was up to in 2007. You may even want to go back and change previously shared posts to “only me”; just because you felt comfortable sharing some of those updates in a Facebook that largely hid them after a week or two, doesn’t mean you want them laid out as part of your narrative.
  3. Create an events and apps strategy. Think carefully about who should see the major life events (births, marriages, engagements, home purchases etc) that FB now invites you to add to your timeline. This is an entirely new category of Facebook post, so you may need to think through the implications. Ditto for apps: A number of apps will now make entries in your Timeline if you let them, so you may want to revisit your apps permissions.

How is the new Facebook Timeline changing your Facebook strategy? I’d love to hear your insights and stories, perhaps arranged in some sort of visually compelling, chronological interface….if only there were some way to do that.

Facebook dating: 8 tips for pickup artists (or how to avoid them)

The slender brunette in the airport lounge had just ended a cell phone call when a young man with heavily gelled blonde hair sat down next to her.

“Do you have Internet on your phone?” he asked. “I’m trying to find out the weather.”

“Sorry, I can’t get a connection,” she replied, polite but curt, in what seemed like an obvious shutdown. Gel Hair didn’t take the hint.

“So, do you live in the city or are you just visiting?”

“I live here.”

“Where are you off to?”

Thus launched a 20-minute conversation in which Gel Hair pried Slender Brunette into a clearly unwanted conversation. Brunette might have ended it with a “please leave me alone”, but Gel Hair didn’t make it easy. One of the ironies of life is that for many of us, it’s not until you’re past the age of pick-ups that you develop the ability to tell someone to leave you the fuck alone.

As an apparently disinterested bystander (laptops make the best cover for eavesdropping) I had no doubt that was exactly what Slender Brunette wanted to do. Which is why I was astonished when Gel Hair, devoutly oblivious, moved to close on his pick-up attempt.

“Can I give you my Facebook in case you’ve got some time when you’re back in the city?” he asked. (“Give you my Facebook”? Is that what the kids say nowadays?)

“Sure,” Slender Brunette agreed.

“And can I get yours, too?”

The resigned tone in her voice as she gave him her first and last names was enough to evoke the Facebook “Ignore” button, hanging above her head like a giant thought balloon. Satisfied, Gel Hair said how much he’d enjoyed talking with her, and went on his way.

Which is when my interrogation began. Was I right in inferring she was utterly uninterested? Oh yes, and we shared our astonishment over Gel Hair’s inability to read the not-so-subtle signs. Do guys now routinely close pick-ups via Facebook? No, that was a first, and she hoped he wouldn’t find her (the advantages of having a relatively common name). And what would she do if he did find her? Stick him on a list where he wouldn’t see her updates, or maybe just ignore his invitation to connect.

This scenario opened my eyes to a whole new set of incipient dating challenges: using Facebook as a pickup tool. Not the now-clichéd approach of creeping on someone (“creeping on” is how The Kidz refer to the act of scoping out someone on Facebook by checking out their profile and reading all their updates — have I got that right, Kidz?) but the phenomenon I witnessed today: using Facebook in place of a phone number or email to close the process of a pickup and provide a mechanism for future contact.

While there’s no shortage of online advice about how to pick up girls on Facebook, there’s a lot less on the art of transitioning from face-to-face to Facebook. But there is one key source: Facebook Dating – A guy’s only guide to the world’s largest online dating site Perusing a table of contents that includes “Do you get how huge this is for meeting people!!!!?????”, “Getting her info”  and “I have her Facebook what do i do with now??” left me fairly certain I had found Gel Hair’s dating Svengali.

Here’s the inspiration Gel Hair might have found in author Michael Masters’ opening anecdote about how he picked up a girl at a Japanese bar:

Let’s say I gave her a big handsome smile and said. “You are such a cutie, what is your number?”…How about if I said, “What is your Facebook?” and I handed her my iPhone FB appplication, already to go. Is she going to say no??? Would anyone??? Of course she didn’t and she happily typed in her name. Later I found out that she had a boyfriend, and if I woul dhave asked hfor her number she might have said no. Now, via FB I know what’s up and it just saved both of us some embarrassment. Not to mention also got to see some killer pics of her in a bikini while on vacation in Guam, drool…

Even in the interest of research I couldn’t bring myself to read any more of this thing. But ladies, I fear that Slender Brunette is not the last gal who will face this oh-so-suave approach…perhaps even from a guy you actually want to date. Here are my tips on how to get ready for the Facebook pickup:

  1. Pick yourself up: Log out of Facebook, and log back in under a fake account that you haven’t friended so that you see how easy you are for a stranger to find. If the stranger searches Facebook for your first and last name, do you come up? How about your first name and your city, employer or college? Figure out how much information you can share before you become findable…and be sure that you share that much info only with someone you actually want to hear from.
  2. Check yourself out: While you’re still logged in as a stranger, take a look at your profile (if you’re unfindable, you may have to navigate to your profile by entering the URL of your profile page, which you can find while logged in as your real self).  Can a stranger see your info? Your photos? Make sure that the only info visible to a stranger is info you are comfortable sharing with anyone.
  3. Create a limited-info list: Create at least two lists in Facebook: one for everyone you want to share lots of news with, and one for people you want to share no info with. Make sure your updates and image uploads are set so that they only go to the people you want to share all your news with, and use the low/no info version for strangers whose friend requests you decide to accept. Lots more on how to use lists to manage your exposure in my guide to Facebooking the kids.
  4. Create a custom Facebook URL: Make sure to claim an easy-to-remember username on Facebook so if you do want to share your FB deets with somebody, you can give him or her a URL like http://facebook.com/awsamuel. Here’s how to do it.
  5. Decide on a fake Facebook URL: Decide on a fake Facebook URL you will give out to any hard-to-discourage pickup artists, the same way you might give out a fake phone number.
  6. Embrace the “ignore” button: There is nothing wrong with ignoring a Facebook friend request. If someone follows up on a pickup operation with a FB friend request, only accept the request if you are actually interested in dating. No, accepting a friend request from someone who is trying to pick you up — even someone you would sincerely want to be friends with, otherwise — isn’t being nice.
  7. Give a username, don’t ask for one: If you’re the one doing a pickup, give out your Facebook handle — don’t ask for hers. The same protocol that applies to phone numbers (give her your digits, and take hers if offered, but don’t put her on the spot) applies here.
  8. Read the offline signs: If you are using Facebook as a way to follow up on a face-to-face pickup, make sure you take advantage of the in-person context. Is this woman or man responding like s/he is interested — or are you getting the minimal level of response that your insistent conversation requires? If you’re not getting an enthusiastic reaction offline, there is no reason to expect an enthusiastic reaction online.

I realize that all this advice amounts to so much backseat dating: after all, I have been off the market since before Facebook was invented. Literally.

But as long as it’s been, I well remember both the pain and anxiety of trying to connect with someone new, and the awkwardness of trying to extricate from unwanted attentions. While Facebook may seem like a way of attenuating both sets of problems, that’s only because it obscures the underlying truth that the person at the other end of that friend request is a living breathing human being with an emotional agenda that may or may not align with your own. Approach a Facebook pickup with the same caution and courtesy you’d apply to an old-school request for digits, and everyone can emerge with their dignity intact.

Riot vigilantes speak for themselves

In the past couple of days I’ve heard from people who were initially enthusiastic about the crowdsourcing of rioter identification, but now see the concern with this kind of vigilantism. I’d love to take credit, but I’m not the most convincing voice in this argument.

The real argument for restraint comes from the folks who are participating in online identification efforts on Facebook and blogs. As the week wears on, it’s the tenor of comments posted about the rioters has included many nasty, racist, misogynistic or generally hateful remarks. It’s the angry, prejudiced and even violent tone of comments that has more and more people what is scary about the other mob — the one that has materialized online.

I suspect with good intentions, the managers of some of the sites and Facebook pages tracking riot participants have taken it up on themselves to edit out the most hateful comments. It’s a great example of what makes censorship dangerous: by taking away the most egregiously hateful examples, we’re left with the impression of a far more restrained call for justice than what has actually unfolded online. Leaving those comments up would force the convenors of these mobs to recognize the kind of hostile mentality these sites have unleashed, and allow others to form their own judgements of whether crowdsourcing the identification of riot participants is appropriate or scary.

To that end I’ve snapped a few choice comments that give you some sense of what concerns me about the sentiments unfolding online. They’re in no way representative, nor do they really capture the worst of what’s been posted: I came across many extensive threads that criticized racist comments, in which the originating (racist) comment had been deleted.

And that should tell you the other sense in which these comments are unrepresentative: they don’t reflect the extraordinary backlash to the backlash that is unfolding on every “riot justice” site I have seen. It doesn’t take an op-ed or blog post for people to see for themselves what is frightening about the emergent online mob, and hundreds if not thousands of people are out there challenging the mob and speaking up for due process.

It a week that has made me fear the speed at which mobs can emerge, both online and off, these folks have given me hope. I can see how many people have both the instinct and the courage to speak up against vigilantism, racism and plain old meanness. They’re my heroes.

From Vancouver Riot Pics on Facebook:

Treat them like animals

Facebooker says let's ship them to Afghanistan

A facebook comments says we should round them up

Describes a 14 year old as a "stupid little cunt"

"Wish I would be behind that dude about to sucker punch him with a rock.."

From Public Shaming Eternus:

"Stick a rag in this fuckers asshole and i bet there would be line up of people waiting to light it! "

The pajama test: An open letter to my Facebook “friends”

A year ago today, this blog post was the turning point in my relationship with Facebook. In my life affair for Twitter I’d pretty much lost sight of how Facebook could possibly be relevant to me. Then I made the decision that Facebook would be my personal space — the space where I connected with true friends, instead of just focusing on building connections — and settled back into a groove that has made Facebook part of my near-daily life again. I’m not on it constantly the way I am with Twitter, but it’s where I go to share news about my kids, post something that is too quirky and unprofessional to tweet, or to see the latest from my pals.

Recently my approach has gone through yet another metamorphosis after a conversation I had with Rochelle Grayson. Like me, Rochelle posts on Facebook as if it were her personal space, but unlike me she doesn’t limit her friends to only people she knows really well. She’s just made the decision that if someone is going to be her Facebook friend, they’re going to see the personal as well as professional Rochelle, and if that’s not of interest they should ignore her updates.

I like this philosophy because I think it puts the onus on the reader rather than the poster to decide how much information is TMI. The challenge is to post as authentically in that broader space as you would if you were posting to your 4 closest friends. But thanks to multiple friends lists you can choose the circle with whom you want to share any given update or image.

In fact, I think it’s time for me to create a new friend list. I’m going to call it “Pajama Test”.

Dear Facebook “friend”,

You may have noticed that you’re hearing from me less, and when you do, it’s mostly about my husband or my shoes or how I feel when someone eats the last brownie. Maybe you’re happy that your news feed isn’t full of my Twitter updates anymore (I got rid of my Twitter-to-Facebook hookup) or maybe you’re unhappy that I never write on your wall. Maybe you’re wondering why I didn’t accept your friend request, or maybe you’re wondering why you’re not in my friend list when you used to be.

Here’s the truth: we’re not actually friends. That doesn’t mean I don’t like you, or think you’re smart, or want to work with you. I’ve turned down friend requests from some of my favourite colleagues, and from people I respect a lot. In fact I would love to hear from you on Twitter (I’m @awsamuel), and if you’re missing all those great social media links and tidbits, you’ll still find them on my Twitter feed.

But Facebook isn’t Twitter. And for most of the past two years — the time in which I’ve been really active on Twitter — that’s felt like a bad thing. Twitter is more open, more flexible, and more useful as a source of professional learning and conversation. I can tweet something and store it to delicious at the same time, I can use Skitch to capture a screenshot and share it instantly on Twitter; I can even use Twitter to log my hours in Harvest, our time tracking system.

In fact, I use Twitter so much that it now feels like the most awesome, raging party you’ve ever been to: a packed room full of fascinating colleagues and friends where conversation is flying along a mile a minute. I love parties like that, and I’m not above saying they can also be very useful professionally: I’ve begun more than one great collaboration over a few beers.

And yet a giant rager is not my favorite place to spend time with friends. At the end of the day (or night) I want to go somewhere quiet and unwind, take off my party shoes and have a postgame chat with one of my closest pals. Hell, I want get into my jammies and settle in for a good long juicy talk.

I’m now focusing my Facebook time on the friends who pass the pajama test: is this someone I know well enough to chat with once I’m in my jammies? These are the people who actually do care about what I’m eating for breakfast (something I hate reading about on Twitter); these are the people I love so much that yes, I do want to hear about the funny thing their cat just did.

This is the point where you pop over to my Facebook page and wonder how the hell I could feel comfortable enough to wear my PJs in front of 718 people (my current number of friends). The truth is, I don’t. And that’s exactly why I’ve changed the way I use Facebook by:

  1. Creating a WTF list on Facebook for the people who friend me, but who I can’t place…but know I know somehow
  2. Ignoring friend requests from anyone who is totally new and unfamiliar, especially after I discovered that my habit of accepting random friend requests was filling my news feed with updates from some pretty undesirable “friends”
  3. Getting disciplined about clicking “hide” whenever I see news in my feed from someone I don’t really really really care about, and hiding that person from my news feed
  4. Refusing all group invitations on Facebook
  5. Killing the Twitter-to-Facebook import that used to cross-post all my status updates
  6. Setting my Facebook privacy settings so my posts are only visible to people on my Friends list, and not to my networks or friends-of-friends
  7. Setting up a “Kid Sharing Friends” list on Facebook for the even smaller number of people who I feel comfortable sharing kid photos with, and limiting the visibility of my Facebook photos to that list
  8. Gradually paring back my Facebook list to the people who pass my pajama test.

All of these practices make me a lot less visible on Facebook. And I’ll admit, that’s a little scary for a social media junkie like me: it feels like so much of social media is about waving your arms as wildly as possible and shouting “look at me! look at me!!”

But I’ve decided that Facebook is the one part of the social media empire where I’m going to stop waving. Because as much as Facebook’s “walled garden” approach (which makes Facebook relatively invisible outside the garden walls) is what drove me towards focusing on Twitter, the walled garden has its charms, too.

There are times when it’s nice to settle into a shady corner and talk about stuff that has nothing to do with work (bearing in mind that someone can still peek over the walls and tell the world exactly what you’re saying).  There are times when I want to pay attention to the people I know from school, instead of the people I know from work. There are times when it’s I just want to catch up with my BFF — even if there are lots of other people, like you, who I also really enjoy!

And yes, there are times when I just want to put on my PJs.

Originally published June 9, 2010.

The Lonely Princess: A Social Media Fairy Tale

Once upon a time* there lived a princess who had everything a princess could want. She had an air conditioned castle furnished with tasteful furniture from Design Out Of Reach, and a solar-powered car that could run at up to 100 MPH, and a large-screen TV that received over a hundred channels. More importantly, she could do anything a princess might want to do: she was an excellent surfer, a renowned aerialist, a prolific painter and a skilled welder.

Despite all these possessions and talents, however, the princess was unhappy. She had no shortage of ladies-in-waiting, royal cousins, minions and exotic pets. And yet the princess was terribly, terribly lonely.

When she drove her solar-powered car sharply around a bend in the local mountain road, she wanted to share her triumph with someone who understood the difficulty of maintaining control at high speeds. When she finished watching the latest episode of Real Princesses of Forest County, she wanted to compare notes with someone else who cared about Forest County’s shocking disregard for landscaping standards. When she managed to weld an exceptionally complex set of spires onto her balcony, she wanted to show it off to someone who appreciated the quality of her craftsmanship.

The king and queen could see that their daughter was unhappy, so they did what any normal set of royal parents do when faced with a lonely princess: they looked for a lonely prince. After all, the princess wasn’t getting any younger, and while all that surfing and trapeze work certainly helped her keep a lovely figure, the welding ensured that her once-delicate hands now showed their age. Find her a prince now, they figured, while she’s still got her looks, and that will provide her with all the companionship she could want.

The royal parents didn’t know a lot about prince-finding, but luckily the princess had a fairy godmother who was quite worldly and kept up with things. This fairy godmother gave the king and queen all the latest advice on how to look for a prince, and helped them formulated their proclamation:

Every prince needs his princess!
Carriage rides are meant for two. Find your happily ever after with a princess who has it all: looks, talent and a fast, environmentally sensitive car. If you’re sensitive, clever, well-mannered, considerate, passionate, charming, as kind as you’re handsome, and heir to a throne then this could be the princess for you. Send an intro and recent portrait to @lonelyprincess15.

The castle was soon deluged by the emissaries of distant princes who were hoping for an introduction, and nearby princes who’d ridden over to see this princess for themselves. The princess consented to spend an afternoon with a prince who shared her passion for circus arts, but was disappointed to discover he enjoyed clowning rather than trapeze. She agreed to let another prince watch the big game on her large-screen TV, but found that high def merely intensified the boredom of watching cricket. She had some hope for a prince who professed his passion for both welding and surfing, but found herself questioning his intellect when he turned up with a handmade iron surfboard.

All these princes left the princess lonelier than ever. To meet so many potential mates who shared one or two of her interests, and then to realize that she would never find someone who shared all of them: well, the princess couldn’t bring herself to choose. She withdrew into her hobbies, and told her parents that if she couldn’t share all of her passions, she’d rather rely on her inner resources and come to terms with a lifetime of isolation.

The king and queen had heard of princesses who took that kind of self-reliant attitude, and they knew it could lead to poetry writing or even Buddhism. Why, there hadn’t been a Buddhist in their family in fourteen generations! They weren’t going to let it happen on their watch.

Just when the entire court was near despair, the tower watch reported that two royal parties had been spotted in the distant hills. But this time, the suitors were not mere princes: they were full-fledged kings!

When the two kings arrived at the castle, the king and queen hastened to look them over. One king was dark and handsome; his crest featured a blue bird. The other king was fair and shy; his crest showed a simple silhouette of a man’s face.

The Bird King kept his introduction brief. “I am the king of a new kingdom. I promise the princess a lifetime of conversation.”

The Face King cleared his throat, and launched into a monologue. “My kingdom is already established. I am simply new to these lands. I promise the princess a lifetime of friendship. Also private messaging,
photos, groups, blogging and a wall where her friends can leave her public messages.”

The king and queen were impressed by the eloquent simplicity of the Bird King, and awed by the riches promised by the Face King. Surely both kings were at least worthy of an introduction to the princess herself! The princess was brought into the throne room, where she posed her own questions to the would-be matches.

“Can you keep up with me on a mountain drive?” she asked.

“Just say the word NASCAR and you’ll have trouble keeping up with ME,” the Bird King said.

“Spend your life in my kingdom, and a world of drivers can become your friends,” countered the Face King.

“And will you be able to appreciate my accomplishments as a surfer, aerialist and welder?” the princess next demanded.

“When you give word of your latest feat, it will echo across the land,” promised the Bird King.

“The news of each and every achievement will be shared not only with me but all of your friends, so that they may tell you how they like it,” said the Face King.

“And will you even keep me company when I watch the Real Princesses of Forest County?” the princess asked.

The Bird King smiled. “In my kingdom, you will hear from the Real Princesses themselves.”

The Face King matched him. “With me, you will be able to discuss every aspect of the Real Princesses in excruciating detail, and know that you will always find a response that is just as passionate.”

For the first time in many moons, the princess felt the faintest glimmer of hope that her loneliness might yet be cured. But her fairy godmother knew that such a cure did not come easily; it fell to her to pose the questions that the princess and her parents had not thought to ask.

“Why is there no princess who yet graces your kingdom?” she asked the two nobles.

“Our kingdom is still in beta,” said the Bird King.

“It’s complicated,” said the Face King.

“Are your subjects wise or foolish?” the godmother asked.

“As in your land, we have both,” the Bird King replied. “The princess may choose who she will heed.”

“We too have all manner of subject,” said the Face King. “The princess may find groups as wise and talented as she is. She may even choose to become friends with only those she holds in highest esteem. Of course, that’s not how most people do it.”

“And I must ask: are either of you currently under any curses, cease and desist orders, or other functional limitations?”

Both Kings paled.

“Those in our land must speak briefly,” answered the Bird King. “When the princess shares her joys or sorrows, her words will vanish near as quick as they are uttered.”

“The princess will be free to speak her mind, to wander the kingdom, to befriend those who amuse her: in short, to enjoy all the liberties she has here,” the Face King said.  “But she must know that everything she does will be reported to me, and that her stories will become my stories for all eternity.”

The king and queen sighed. How could they ask the princess to accept either king, knowing that each suffered from so dire a curse? Surely, the princess was destined to remain lonely forever. Her parents steeled themselves for an onslaught of tears, moping and Alannis Morisette.

But to their amazement, the princess wore a shining smile.

“Dear kings, I am honored and humbled by the riches you promise,” she said, holding out her hands to the two men. They each clasped one of her rough hands in theirs. “But I can not become your queen.”

“Bird King, the eloquence of your people and the abundance of your conversation warms my heart. I would know the pleasure of sharing each of life’s joys with those who share that passion!”

“Face King, I can only imagine the love and kindness of a kingdom in which each subject has so many friends. I would know the joy of friendship myself, and feel my friends beside me at every moment!”

The princess paused, and gently withdrew her hands from the kings’ grasp.

“But I can not give my whole life to either of your kingdoms. To speak in so few words, when my heart is bursting with volumes…Bird King, that is no fate for me. And Face King, my stories can not be your stories; some must be guarded for me alone, or shared with all the world instead.”

The two kings now looked as forlorn and worried as the king and queen.

“If I can not be your queen,” the princess continued, “I would yet be your subject. Bird King, permit me to live in your kingdom by day: to share my news with the world, and to find in your kingdom a voice and companion for every one of my own passions. Face King, permit me to live in your kingdom by night: to review my day with those few friends I choose from among your good subjects, and with whom I shall share only the stories I would permit you to keep.”

Most kings balk when a potential queen rejects them. But both of these kings were busy building their kingdoms, and disinclined to turn away any potential subject, especially one as influential as a princess. They gave their assent, and each provided the princess with a lengthy contractual agreement that she asked her fairy godmother to read for her. (Unbeknownst to the princess, her fairy godmother nodded off while reading, so the royal family never did know exactly what they agreed to.) With the documents signed, the princess embarked on her new life, and promised her parents that she would make regular visits to her home kingdom.

As she had hoped, the princess was no longer lonely. In the land of the Bird King she had conversations about welding with her fellow ironworkers, compared watercolor techniques with her fellow painters, and was regularly mentioned by one of the Real Princesses of Forest County. In the land of the Face King her wall was constantly festooned with well wishes, and as the King himself had predicted, she acquired a large circle of friends, not all of whom she actually knew. In fact she had so many conversations and so many friends that she ceased to be known as the Lonely Princess, and was universally recognized by her new title: the Social Princess.

The princess never broke a promise, so she continued to visit her parents in the kingdom of her birth even as she spent more and more time in the kingdoms of the Face King and the Bird King. Her parents thought the arrangement slightly peculiar, and like many parents wished the princess would spend more time with them, but on the whole they were relieved that the princess was happy and hadn’t turned out to be a poet or a Buddhist.

But the princess herself sometimes wondered what it would have been like to meditate.

*Circa 2006.

Singing goodbye to a Facebook “friend”

This week I participated in a fireside chat with Rochelle Grayson for Canadian Women in Communications, on The Pros and Cons of Social Media Marketing. It was the scrappiest conversation I’ve ever had from a (notional) podium, probably because Rochelle and I know and respect each other enough to feel comfortable mixing it up — a great recipe that I’ll look for in the future.

But one place where we agreed was on how we use Facebook: both of us try to keep our Facebook presences as our personal spaces online. Angela Crocker, the author of the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creating a Social Network, said that she does the same thing.

That’s why I wrote an open letter last year to my Facebook “friends”, explaining that I was going to subject my Facebook network to the Pajama Test:  if I don’t know you so well that I’d feel comfortable hanging out with you in my PJs, you don’t get to read all my Facebook content.

But enforcing the Pajama Test is not just about how I handle privacy settings, new friend requests or other rules of netiquette. In some cases, it requires a little retrospective triage.

Today’s Internet tune speaks to this particular modern dilemma: (I unfriended you on) facebook, by Par Trick.

Could you imagine life without Facebook?

Progressive Media Concepts recently posted an interesting question: What Would You Do If Facebook Shut Down Tomorrow?

One I recovered from my blackout (it’s my body’s automatic self-defense mechanism when faced with the unthinkable) I read on, curious to hear PWC’s analysis:

Moral of the story here is that so many people have developed such an attachment (and often an unhealthy one) to Facebook that, if it were to vanish, they would have a hard time adapting to what was once called normal social etiquette. Technological dependance as a whole has crippled us from our former selves, leaving us ever so vulnerable in an instance of its destruction.

Hmm, not buying it. PWC was far closer to the mark in speculating that:

Facebook’s connectivity would very likely be replaced by Twitter. Twitter would inevitably become the go-to social media site, where people would stay up-to-date with their friends by way of tweets. Twitter, as is, would simply not be able to fill the giant void that Facebook would leave behind.

PWC is right: Facebook would be replaced. Twitter wouldn’t do the job (quite) but dozens of other also-rans would get their opportunity to step into the Facebook void, and one (or several) would likely succeed…maybe even while resolving some of the major issues (privacy, anyone?) that continue to plague Facebook itself.

But the inevitability of a post-Facebook social network isn’t evidence that we’re “crippled” by technology dependence: it’s evidence that we’ve learned to use technology in ways that are so profoundly valuable that we are no longer prepared to imagine life without them. Yes, we use Facebook to farm imaginary farms and evaluate who is hot or not, but we also use it to sustain friendships and share personal moments and cheer each other on. We use it in thousands of ways that are so affecting that yes, it would be hard to adapt to their absence.

That’s nothing to be ashamed of. Rather than casting our affection for social media as dependence, let’s embrace it as evolution: evolution towards a society in which we can celebrate all means of connection, on- and offline.

Facebooking the kids: 12 Dos & Don’ts

I began this series on a false note. My initial post on the five reasons to consider sharing your kids’ content on Facebook missed the reason that actually motivates my own Facebook sharing: the desire to include my kids in my life online, and to include my life online in my time with family. The Internet is a huge part of my life, and to keep it entirely separate from my family life would be to exclude my kids from something that they know is hugely important to both their mother and father. And of course, the kids are the heart of my life offline, so to keep them invisible in my web life would be to show up online as a very partial version of myself.

Embracing Facebook as our online family space has given me way to integrate my on- and offline lives. But I’m only comfortable including the kids in my Facebook life because I’ve taken pains to dramatically limit access to any kid-related content. This series spelled out how you can do the same: by creating a “kid-sharing friends” list and by modifying your privacy settings so that by default, your content is only visible to those kid-sharing friends.

I encourage you to adapt this approach to your own goals and comfort level, but would strongly encourage you to stick to the following dos and don’ts unless and until you have a high degree of technical skill and a strong knowledge of online privacy and related issues:


  1. Share kid-related content only with people you know well, trust, and who want to hear about your kids.  A smaller circle = lower risk to your kids, less annoyance to your uninterested friends.
  2. Check your privacy settings on a regular basis to ensure your kids’ content is still protected on any social network you use to share their images or stories.
  3. Let your friends and family know if and how they can re-share your kids’ news and photos.
  4. Teach your kids to think critically about what they share online by including them in the decision about what to post.
  5. Listen to your kid if he or she asks you not to post a photo, video or status update about him or her.
  6. Share your friends’ responses to your kid-related content so your kids know their news and pictures are appreciated.
  7. Learn as much as you can about online safety and privacy before expanding access to your kids’ content.


  1. Post any pictures of your kids in a state of undress.
  2. Post your kids’ real names or identifying information (like schools or after-school programs).
  3. Post pictures or videos of your kids with their friends, unless their friends’ parents have given you their written permission to do so.
  4. Post anything your kids would find embarrassing or object to you sharing.
  5. Post anything you wouldn’t want your kids to see or read in 20 years (because they will).

My work gives me one more reason for including our kids in my life online. The focus of my blog and my research is to help people make sense of their lives online; to articulate and focus the choices we each make about how to use the Internet, and thus, to determine what kind of online world we will create. Figuring out how children can safely, constructively and enjoyably engage in the online world is part of that work, as is sharing my own thoughts and concerns about their experience online. I don’t want my kids to be lab rats, but as a family that is Internet-obsessed if not Internet-centric, I want to share whatever we learn from our own online exploration.]

And I’m just as keen to hear about the decisions other families make about whether and how to include their kids on Facebook or other social networking sites. What is your approach to bringing family content online? What experiences, insights or concerns do you have to share? I’d love to hear from you.

How to configure your Facebook privacy settings to protect your kids

In my last post I explained how to set up a Facebook list that includes only the small number of people with whom you want to share kid-related content. That list should include only people who you know well, trust absolutely, and who are actively interested in your kids.

Now that you’ve got your “kid-sharing friends” list (as I’ve called it), you have two options:

  1. Set your privacy settings so that by default, anything you post to Facebook will be visible only to your list of kid-sharing friends. In my next post, I’ll explain how; your kid-related content will still be visible to all of Facebook until you complete the steps in the next post. When you post something you want to share more widely, you’ll have to manually edit that item and share it with everyone (or with additional lists/networks).
  2. Set your privacy settings so that by default, anything you post to Facebook will be visible to everyone (or by whatever rules you specify). When you post something about your kids, you’ll have to manually edit that item to limit its visibility to your kid-sharing friends.

Unless you rarely post kid news or pictures, I strongly recommend option #1. I’ve tried it both ways, and even if you’re good at consistently remembering to switch your item privacy to “Kid-sharing friends” only when posting a status update (see picture), you’ll almost certainly end up exposing content you post via mobile phone.  If you go for option #2, you can still set your mobile upload privacy settings to default to “kid-sharing friends” only (I’ll cover that, too).  Otherwise you will have to be very quick about logging onto Facebook (the real version, not the mobile version) to immediately change the privacy settings of any kid-related picture or video you upload from your mobile phone.

Here’s how to configure your privacy settings so that your content is by default accessible only to your kid-sharing friends:

Main privacy settings

  1. Click “account” in the upper-right of your Facebook window and choose “Privacy settings” from the dropdown menu.Privacy settings accessible under "Account" menu
  2. On the privacy settings page, click on “customize settings” at the bottom of the page.
    "Customize settings" option is at bottom of privacy settings page
  3. On your settings customization page, look for “posts by me” under “Things I share”. Click the dropdown menu (it’s probably set to share with “everyone”) and select “customize” from the dropdown menu. A customization window will pop up.
    "Customize" option appears in dropdown menu on privacy settings page
  4. In the customization window, you’ll see a dropdown menu next to “Make this visible to….these people:” Choose “specific people” from the dropdown menu (I know, it’s confusing that they don’t say “specific people or lists”) and begin to type the name of your list. In my case, it’s “kid-sharing friends”, so I begin to type the word “kid”, and “kid-sharing friends” quickly appears as an option. Once you see the name of your inner circle list appear, select it, and then choose “save setting” at the bottom of the window.
    Entering "kid" in field under dropdown brings up "kid-sharing friends" list as option

App settings

Next you’ve got to fix the privacy settings for content that gets shared with any applications you’ve installed on Facebook, or any websites you connect with using Facebook Connect.

  1. Go back to the main privacy settings screen (under “Account”/”Privacy Settings”)  and choose “edit your settings” underneath “Apps and Websites” at the bottom of the page."Edit your settings" option under "apps and websites" at bottom of page
  2. On the page for apps and websites’ privacy settings, click the “edit settings” button next to “apps you use”. "edit settings" button next to "info accessible to your friends"
  3. In the pop-up window you’ll see a ton of options. I’ll go have a cup of tea while you freak out a bit over all the different stuff Facebook is sharing about you.
    OK, now that your freak-out is done, here are the 4 boxes I strongly encourage you to un-check in the “Info accessible through your friends” window: “My status updates”, “my photos”, “my videos” and “places I check into”. I figure these are all things that might involve your kids, so let’s limit access.Boxes for "my status updates" "my photos" "my videos" and "places I check into" are all unchecked

Mobile uploads

If you post to Facebook from a cell phone or wifi-enabled camera (oh yeah!) you need to change the settings on your mobile uploads album. This is the album to which Facebook uploads any photos or videos you take on your mobile phone; its default settings will determine whether the photo you just snapped of your daughter gets posted on your profile so that it’s visible by the whole world, or just by your kid-sharing friends.

Facebook hides the album privacy settings in an unlikely location, so you’ll have to hunt for them. The easiest thing is to go to your main Facebook photos page, then choose your Mobile Uploads album.

  1. Once you’re inside the album you’ll see the “edit photos” button on the upper-right of the page. Click on this button."Edit photos" button on album takes you to privacy settings
  2. Once you’re in “Edit Photos”, you’ll see the “Edit privacy” tab. Click on it, and you’ll see the same privacy dropdown you found on your main privacy settings page. You can use the same “customize” option to select “Kid-sharing friends” as your default privacy setting for mobile uploads.

Dropdown menu allows user to change privacy settings on mobile uploads album


Once you’ve got these settings complete, run a few tests to make sure everything is working the way you want. Ideally you will do this by setting up a dummy account on Facebook, friending that dummy account, but leaving your dummy account off of your kid-sharing friends list.

  • Post a status update. Is it visible only to your kid-sharing friends? Or can you dummy account read it, too?
  • Post a picture from your cell phone. Does it go to an album that is only visible to kid-sharing friends? Or can your dummy account see the picture?

If your dummy account can see any of the content that was supposed to be visible only to your kid-sharing friends, check all your settings again, including your friend list: make sure you didn’t accidentally add your dummy account to “kid-sharing friends”.

If your dummy account is locked out of your delightful kid photos and stories, then congratulations! You’re now set to limit access to your kids’ content on Facebook.

The downside, of course, is that it will be harder for you to build your public Facebook profile. If you want to use Facebook as a way of building customer, supporter or fan relationships, the obstacles you’ve just set up to sharing your content widely — obstacles that you’ve created so you don’t overexpose your kids — are obstacles to increasing your own online visibility.

Happily, you can have your cake and eat it too: use Facebook as a family archiving and sharing tool, and use it as a public reputation-builder too. The trick is to separate these two lives, ideally by creating a separate Facebook page for your professional work, like the page I recently set up for my writing. Just be clear on what you are using Facebook for, and what context — or combination of contexts — will help you to do it.